Navy officer sentenced for leak of captives' names

Matt Diaz was a Navy lawyer with 18 years of military experience when duty called at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Six months there broke him.
Matt Diaz was a Navy lawyer with 18 years of military experience when duty called at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Six months there broke him. Dallas Morning News/MCT

Friday morning, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matt Diaz and his family told a military jury a life story of hard luck and redemption. Of Diaz's father on Death Row, so far saved from execution by a habeas corpus petition. Of early struggle as a child of divorce, a high school dropout turned Army soldier. Of supporting a family and then finally becoming an officer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps in the Navy.

Then late Friday, the jury sent Diaz, 41, to the brig for six months followed by dishonorable discharge, ending his 20-year military career.

He was convicted of spilling security secrets by mailing a list of terrorism captives and classified intelligence codes from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a New York law firm, inside a Valentine's Day card.

In the end, the jury of seven Navy officers cut him a break -- he could have received a maximum of 13 years in prison.

It recommended that the Navy continue to pay his $6,384 monthly salary to his family in Jacksonville while he serves his six-month sentence, then dismissal from the Navy with no benefits.

''I'm very, very happy with the results,'' he said as he was led from the courtroom here, his eyes glistening with tears.

The sentence capped testimony in which Diaz's 15-year-old daughter wept and asked to not be separated from her father.

Diaz stood before the jury in his Navy whites, four rows of ribbons on his chest, and apologized for his actions -- describing the move as a misguided act of conscience.

''I am disgraced,'' he said. ``I am ashamed. I was an inspiration to my family. I let them down. I let the JAG Corps down. I let the Navy down.''

According to testimony, the list that he mailed included intelligence codes, ``sources and methods.''

On Thursday, the jury had convicted him of four crimes, among them transmitting classified information that could have harmed the United States and conduct unbecoming an officer.

On a Sunday night, Jan. 2, 2005, ending a six-month assignment as deputy in the detention center's legal department in southeast Cuba, he printed out a list of captives from a computer used for intelligence data. Then he made copies small enough to fit inside a Valentine card. Thirteen days later he mailed it to the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

The law group had asked the Pentagon for the list, in order to challenge the detention of each Guantánamo captive through habeas corpus petitions.What colleagues at Guantánamo didn't know at the time, and what the jurors only found out after his conviction, was this:

His father, Robert Rubane Diaz, sits on Death Row at California's San Quentin State Prison. A male nurse, he was convicted in 1984 of killing 12 elderly patients with overdoses of a drug called lidocaine, in a case still under appeal through a habeas corpus petition that asserts he was convicted because of bad legal representation in a then-chaotic public defender's office.

His father, Diaz said, had urged him to join the Army at age 17. And his father was his inspiration to later become a lawyer and a Navy officer.

After learning that the Center for Constitutional Rights sought a detainee list in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Guantánamo captives could challenge their detention, Diaz said he was confronted with a ''moral obligation'' based on ``my upbringing, my experience, my father's experience, my own sense of justice and what looks like injustice, and what I had been told as a soldier and a sailor, and what I learned in international law at Army JAG school.''

He said Friday he made a cowardly choice.

He could have tried to persuade the colonel in charge of his office that, as he saw it, the lawyers were entitled to the list. He could have appealed elsewhere. But he had read e-mails and seen draft responses showing the Bush administration would shield the names.

''I didn't want to make waves and jeopardize my career,'' he said. So ``for selfish reasons, I was more concerned with self-preservation.''

Before the jury recommended a reduced sentence, they were told his life story and that he split his $6,384-a-month salary this way:

$1,200 to his former wife Melissa in Jacksonville to support their 15-year-old daughter, Anna Marie;

$4,430 for household expenses with his second wife, a nursing student;

$215 a month to his mother, in Indiana;

$50 a month to his father, in prison.

And he told the jurors that he didn't realize that the codes on the list he mailed were classified ``secret.'

Moreover, the New York law center never made them public. It alerted a federal court, which picked up the list and told the FBI.

Little more than a year later, the Pentagon released all the names of the captives in a Freedom of Information lawsuit.

Navy Cmdr. Rex Guinn, the prosecutor, had sought a seven-year prison sentence and Diaz's dismissal so he could never march in a Memorial Day parade in a Navy uniform.

Friday evening, Guinn said he was satisfied with the outcome. ''It sends a clear message,'' he said. ``You can't just release classified information -- no matter how good an intention you have.''